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Sunday, March 2, 2014

Are You an Attention Seeker?

When I was about eight years old, my little sister Sam caught Scarlet Fever, which you don’t hear much about these days but basically it’s a Strep infection gone silly. 

Before the discovery of antibiotics it often caused death via kidney or heart disease but because of the vivid red rash all over her body, Sam’s illness was quickly diagnosed and she received the appropriate treatment. 

I recall deeply resenting the extra attention conferred on Sam and spent a lot of time silently drifting around the house seething with jealousy.

I shared a bedroom with Sam but never developed a rash of any description so seemingly escaped infection. It didn’t stop me complaining to my mother how I felt unwell and kept getting a burning sensation all over my body, though.

Two weeks after Sam’s rash disappeared her feet and hands began to peel as a result of the high fevers. Strangely, little Pinky’s extremities began to do the same thing. A few weeks later every cut I had developed into a festering boil and eventually I was taken to the doctor who immediately ordered blood tests.

I’d had Scarlet Fever at the same time as Sam but no one knew and I’d consequently developed kidney disease. My blood was filthy; full of sediment and I was sent to hospital for three weeks of complete bed rest (not even toilet privileges), a restricted diet and medication via three injections in my pin- cushion butt every day.

I didn’t feel sick at all and I was in the children’s ward with about five other kids. It was Pinky’s dream come true having my (guilt-ridden) parents fussing over me for a change, instead of my little sister getting all the attention.

The other kids in the ward weren’t drastically ill either so they spent a lot of time on my bed playing cards and board games. One kid had a patch on her eye after having a fish hook flicked into it. Another girl’s arm had been badly broken after becoming caught in a wringer and another boy had been stung by a box jellyfish.

One day, Dad brought up the best present I’d ever received in my life; a transistor radio with earplugs and everything! 

I had a bed by the window and could see my parents crossing the road armed with grapes, toys and letters from my class whenever they diligently paid little Pinky a visit. I’d urgently shoo the other kids off my bed and assume a melancholy, despondent position with my back to door and desperately try to summon up a miserable tear or two for dramatic effect whenever I saw them coming.

                         This was the window to the children's ward.

This was my show and I had to milk the attention for all it was worth.

My theatrical ruse was discovered one day when Dad came up to talk to the matron and caught me laughing, playing and eating prohibited lollies with the fish hook kid.

Fortunately, or unfortunately for Pinky (whichever way you choose to look at it), the miraculous benefits of Penicillin cured my kidney ailment and I was sent home from hospital.

The first night home I recall my shock and outrage at being treated normally again. I feigned a headache and wouldn’t leave my bed, refusing dinner and crying non-stop. I could hear them all outside watching television and enjoying themselves while I wallowed in self-pity.

I have another vivid memory from when I was about six years old and we were at my parent’s friend’s house for dinner. Aunty Betty (as we called her) had made some delicious parfaits for dessert. Parfaits consisting of layers of cake, jelly, custard and cream and served in big glasses were very big in the sixties.

For some inexplicable reason I decided not to accept the offer of dessert. I really, really wanted it; I craved it, but enjoyed the attention I received by refusing it even more. When the adults eventually grew tired of trying to coerce me into eating it, I hid under the table to garner more of a response.

Meanwhile, little Sam sat at the table spooning the delicious dessert into her small mouth enjoying every bite as her tragic sister huddled under the table like a whiny victim of her own making.

Do the words; martyr, needy, unpleasant, and melodramatic come to mind?

I don’t know why I was such an attention-seeking brat and I sometimes question if my irritating, childhood personality flaw has disappeared or still hangs around my neurotic psyche?

I tend to play the martyr card in many situations and it never ends well.

When I separated from my first husband I decided to stop eating for a few years. Was I subconsciously bleating for attention… “Look at how thin I am, somebody come to my rescue” or merely taking of control of the one area of my life I could; eating? Maybe a bit of both, but the day I stepped on the scales and they registered 43 kilograms I frightened myself into eating again.

When I have a fight with Scotto, the first thing I do is chuck my dinner down the insinkerator. Using food as a manipulative tool maybe?

When Lulu was rushed to hospital with a burst appendix I neglected to eat for the three days she was in hospital; self-punishment born from guilt at not getting her to a doctor sooner, perhaps?

Whatever the reasons for the use of my self-deprivation, I think I’ve finally realised it hurts no-one but myself. Time to grow up and be the first in line to ask for my just ‘dessert’ I think.

Have you clung on to any bad traits from your childhood?